The Fire Museum of Maryland is the go-to place for learning all about the history of firefighting, the science of fire, and the importance of fire safety. What better way to introduce these topics than to have children dress up in firefighting gear? After all, ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and quite a lot of them will excitedly say, “A fireman!”
We were impressed by the comprehensive educational offerings for children at the Fire Museum of Maryland. STEM is where it’s at and so we were thrilled to give them a small grant. We feel sure that the colorful displays and innovative programming at the museum will open children’s minds to a whole new world of science and technology and a range of interesting career choices. Kars4Kids spoke to the assistant director of the Fire Museum of Maryland, William P. Roulett, to learn more about this work:
Kars4Kids: What is it about fire stations, fire trucks, and firemen that fascinate old and young?
William P. Roulett: I think that our young visitors are captivated by the glimmering red engines that confront them as soon as they enter the museum. Our older visitors are fascinated by the innovators of the fire service who pushed technology forward to protect us. And all people, young and old, benefit from a better understanding of the importance of fire safety in our community after they visit.
Kars4Kids: What is every kid’s favorite exhibit at the museum?
William P. Roulett: The Discovery Room is easily every child’s favorite part of the museum. In the Discovery Room, kids can try on pint-sized turn out gear, climb on a real Baltimore City fire engine, play, and explore.
Kars4Kids: What is the oldest piece of equipment in the museum?
William P. Roulett: The oldest piece of fire apparatus in the museum is a hand-pulled, hand-pumped, fire engine that dates back to 1806. It was used by the Independent Fire Company Number 2 of Annapolis, MD.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us a bit about the Great Baltimore Fire and 1871 Fire House exhibits? What can children learn from this history?
William P. Roulett: The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 tour and exhibit are dives into the museum’s primary sources related to that event, which includes two pieces of fire apparatus that fought the fire. It gives visitors a better understanding of the origin of the things we take for granted like mutual aid from neighboring communities and universal hose couplings. The 1871 Fire House tour and exhibit teaches visitors about all the little technological innovations or time hacks that elevate the Baltimore City Fire Department to a high level of professionalism and excellence by the time of the 1904 fire.
Kars4Kids: How many visitors come to the museum each year?
William P. Roulett: Approximately 15,000 visitors visit the museum each year.
Kars4Kids: How has COVID-19 affected the work of the museum? Do you offer virtual programming, too?
William P. Roulett: Although we are currently open and requiring social-distancing and mask wearing, the museum’s visitation has been extremely low. We are currently working on several virtual programs, the first two of which we presented this week to senior groups! I am also working closely with Baltimore County Public Schools on a virtual bucket brigade field trip that will be ready by the fall. Anyone interested in a program for a senior or school-aged audience should email me at email@example.com.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your Bucket Brigade program?
William P. Roulett: The Bucket Brigade program is by far our most popular program and serves Pre-Kindergarten to about 2nd grade. The program talks about community helpers, changes in technology over time, emergency communications, careers in the fire service, and fire safety. I’m excited to be able to offer this as a virtual experience in the very near future!
Kars4Kids: What do you teach in your STEM labs?
William P. Roulett: Our STEM Labs are engaging and hands-on programs that challenge students to apply scientific concepts to solve problems faced by the fire service. For example, during the Chemistry Lab students learn what goes on at the atomic level during an acid-base reaction by mixing baking soda and vinegar. Then they build their own chemical fire extinguisher in a plastic bottle, which we get to go outside and spray. We wrap up with a look at examples of real chemical fire extinguishers and tanks. It’s a lot of fun!
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Fire Museum of Maryland?
William P. Roulett: Like so many other museums during the COVID-19 pandemic the future is uncertain. I’m the most excited about the potential of our virtual programming to reach far beyond the range of visitors who could ever physically visit. However, we are more dependent than ever on the support of our donors and organizations like Kars4Kids to fill the gap that the absence of physical visitors has left. Thank you so much!